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The Identity-Crisis Pandemic

February 21, 2014

Yes, You Are a Writer

by: Cat Talley

“Ok, so, I’m not a writer.” I would estimate that fifty percent of the clients I work with in the writing center begin their sessions with this line. It always gives me a little chuckle. I will patiently watch as the client pulls out her laptop, opens the document she has brought to work on, and then turns to me with defeat already in her eyes as she mutters, “really, I’m not a writer.” While chuckling at this might seem an inappropriate response, from where I sit, it is the only response that works. I will chuckle, gently, and give a sly smile to my client, and then I will explain to them what is obvious to me.

“Did you write this document we are about to read?”

“Yes.”

“Did you just walk through the door?”

“Yes.”

“Is it safe to say, based on the fact that you just walked through the door, that you are a walker?”

(Here is where the client will begin to chuckle with me.) “Yes. I mean. You know what I mean. I mean I’m not a good writer. I’ve never been good at it.”

“Ok, that statement makes a more legitimate claim. So what I think you are telling me is that you are not a very confident writer. Writing has never come easily to you. Is that about right?”

“Yes. I’ve always been better at [insert school subject here]; I mean, I know what I want to say, but I’ve just never been able to write it.”

“How many emails/Facebook messages have you written today?”

“I don’t know. I emailed a professor this morning.”

“If you re-read that email right now, would you be confident that it communicates what you intended?”

“Well, yeah. I mean (the client usually starts to chuckle) it’s just an email. It’s not real writing.”

When the conversation gets to this point, I usually have to make a choice. Option A: continue the banter about what a writer is, what real writing is (as opposed to fake writing, I guess), and let the clock tick away. Option B: redirect the conversation to the piece of writing at hand and resist my urge to argue semantics. I always go for Option B because that’s my job, but the temptation to continue challenging the client’s perception of writing and her ability to be successful is palpable. The problem is that no one has the power to change an individual’s long-held beliefs (misconceptions) about writing in 45 minutes. At best, maybe I can help this client feel more confident about this piece of writing—the one sitting in front of us. And maybe, over time, this client will allow herself to be confident about other pieces of writing.

What do you think?

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